10 Tips To Crafting Pithy, Punchy Subject Lines

bulldog in princess costume

Use humor to draw in your reader

Gone are the days of paper in-boxes that actually get emptied on a daily basis. Today our email messages join a sea of others competing for the attention of readers. Humanize your brand so that yours is the email that gets read while its neighbors get deleted. Respect your audience; customize your email marketing to feed your audience the content they want, at the cadence they choose.

Whether it’s the subject line for your email newsletter, the title for a blog post, or even or even the subject line for an email message, crafting a powerful introduction is key to capturing the attention of your reader. Try these 10 tips to crafting subject lines that beg to be opened.

1.  Don’t state the obvious. “January newsletter from Hillman Design” … If you’ve populated the “from” address with your name and your business name, recipients know who the newsletter is from, so not only is this subject line boring — it’s also redundant. The subject line is valuable real estate: make the most of it.

2.  Tickle their funny bone. Everyone can use a good laugh. A humorous subject line draws in readers, offering a momentary break and making a positive connection. Even if the content of the article is serious, try an amusing subject line (and/or image) to inspire a reader to open your email.

3.  Make. each. word. count. There’s a ton of research about the ideal length for email subject lines. Open rates depend on many factors, including what kind of device your audience is using to view the email and the email’s perceived relevance. More important than the number of words is their value. Don’t waste words in your titles, headlines or content: Creating compelling content is key.

4.  Sock it to ’em. To break through the digital clutter, your content must have punch. Use a thesaurus to come up with creative synonyms; try alliteration and use action words. Specific promises (like tips) and numbers pique interest (5 unusual tips to … 10 untold ways to … 7 tried-and-true reasons for …). If writing doesn’t come naturally, hire someone to write for you.

5.  Power words first. Like a newspaper story which summarizes in the first paragraph and provides details following, start with your power words. Because the preview pane in many email editors shows only the first few words of your subject line, inbox-scanning recipients may not even see the full phrase.

lions tigers and bears oh my!

Echo an iconic or well-known phrase

6.  Be playful. Echo an iconic or well-known phrase (The good, the bad and the ugly … If you build it, they will come … Easy as 1-2-3). The cadence of the phrase will feel familiar, increasing its impact on the reader.

7.  The no’s have it. Negative headlines like this one 5 Reasons You Wouldn’t Buy From My Online Store connect with a reader’s doubts and can be a compelling call to action. Try a little creative negativity.

8.  Ask, don’t tell. Along the same lines as the negative headline, posing a question like What’s A Bounce Rate And Why Should You Care? taps into a reader’s uncertainties and promises answers to their pending questions.

9.  ‘Tis the season. Connecting your content with a holiday or event can create a timely relevance, expanding your audience and attracting new readers. Our post Heartbreak Hill: Marketing Is A Marathon resonated with marathoners and Bostonians, as well as readers interested in marketing content.

10.  Get visual. It’s been said a million times: A picture tells a thousand words. The title Is your website a map or a maze? creates a visual image which involves readers in a more sensory experience. Look for images that engage other senses — a delicious meal, a windswept field of wheat, a breaking ocean wave, or of course, a baby or a puppy — and connect the image to your content.

Once you’ve tried these subject line tips, assess your effectiveness by reviewing your email marketing analytics.



  1. Roberta Chadis

    Nancy, I always look forward to reading your posts because highlight the points about reaching your audience so well. In this article you validated the use of creative negativity and using a bit of humor to attract the reader so I’m going to give that a whirl. Much thanks!! Keep your ideas coming. You are helping all of us be better thinkers and writers.

    1. Online Amplify (Post author)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Roberta. Sometimes just mixing up your approach can infuse new creative energy to your writing.

  2. Jacqueline Franklin

    And, why I love working with you! You have such a way with words and the energy around them. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Online Amplify (Post author)

      Appreciate your comment, Jacqueline. Thank you.


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